Community Columns

Voting yes on Measure O is voting yes for a hospital, period

Do you care to have a hospital in Oakdale continuing to serve the greater Oakdale community? If so, vote yes for Measure O.

The question and the answer are that simple.

If Measure O is not approved by at least 66.7 percent of the people voting in the mail ballot, there likely will not be a hospital in Oakdale's future. When in need of emergency medical care or hospital services, more than 75,000 people residing within the Oak Valley Hospital District will have to travel to Modesto, Sonora, Turlock or beyond.

While we were helpless to influence Hershey to remain in Oakdale, people residing in the district control the destiny of Oak Valley Hospital. The district keenly desires to remain a vital and vibrant part of the community, not only providing needed medical attention, but also jobs to more than 500 people who participate in their community far beyond their medical professions.

Why Measure O, when Measure H was passed in 2004?

The primary impetus for a new hospital is the passage in 1994 of SB 1953 by the Legislature. It states all hospitals in California must meet seismic standards, yet no state or federal funds were allocated to help hospitals pay for the state-imposed improvements. Hospitals that cannot afford to comply will be forced to close or reduce patient services.

Presently there is a greater need than there is supply for building contractors specializing in hospital construction.

The costs of building materials unique to hospital construction have increased -- in many cases more than 75 percent over the past four years.

The state approval process is arduous and exceptionally time-consuming. In addition, state regulators can and have arbitrarily changed hospital design standards, each change requiring more time and more money.

Measure O provides an additional $27 million in bond funds to the already approved $37 million Measure H bond funds (a total of $64 million).

To pay off the bonds, property within the district is assessed a supplemental tax. The fortuitous reality is the annual supplemental property tax per $100,000 of assessed value is anticipated to be 24 cents less to pay back the $64 million combined bond obligation than was anticipated with the 2004 approval of the $37 million Measure H bond ($30.90 vs. $31.14 per $100,000 of assessed property value).

In part it is serendipity that makes this possible and in part it is ingenuity:

1) Assessed real estate values within the hospital district are significantly higher than projected when Measure H was approved. Individual properties are worth more and the area's growth has been faster than anticipated.

2) Hospital district trustees and administrators astutely extended the Measure O Bond payoff to occur approximately five years beyond that of Measure H. So, while the total being paid over the life of the Measure O bond is greater, the annual payment is less.

Oak Valley Hospital District has a binding contract with Acme Construction of Modesto to build the hospital, so long as the work begins within the next few months and the district has received plan approval from the California Office of Statewide Health and Planning Development. With the approval of Measure O, the hospital will be able to move ahead quickly and save money -- in time and in materials costs. Truly, we are blessed.

A community hospital provides an immense benefit -- the convenience of having a quality, state-of-the-art facility with caring, learned doctors and staff nearby when needed.

The value of the Oak Valley Hospital District extends well beyond medical care. The hospital has become the largest single employer in the greater Oakdale area (more than 500 employees, physicians, nurses and technicians) -- fine people, many of whom we cherish as our neighbors, people whom make our community better.

Please vote yes on Measure O.

Gagos is a member of the Oak Valley Hospital District foundation board.